LONDON- Britain's government offered 5 million pounds (US$7.8 million) to Syria's rebel forces Friday to pay for communications equipment and medical supplies in an effort to bolster ties to the country's opposition.
Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted that the U.K. would not supply any weapons, but confirmed the funds would pay for items including satellite phones, power generators and medical kits.
Hague said Britain will still not supply any weapons and said the money will be used for items including mobile and satellite phones, power generators and medical and water purification kits. He told reporters the aid will also include body armor and other protective equipment for civilians in conflict areas.
Britain, which had previously been cautious over direct talks with Syria's rebels, fears the country could become a haven for al Qaeda and other extremists if the international community fails to help them prepare for al-Assad's ouster, Hague said.
"This is not taking sides in a civil war," he wrote in an op-ed article for the Times of London published Friday. "The risk of total disorder and a power vacuum is so great that we must build relationships now with those who may govern Syria in the future."
"If we do not work with those Syrians who want to see a democratic and open country, we leave a void to be exploited by al Qaeda and others with extremist agendas who wish to hijack the conflict," he added.
Hague also said that Britain will increase its contacts with the Syrian opposition. He said Britain will stress to the rebels that they must adhere to standards on human rights, no matter what "horrors" are perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Britain had previously allocated a little more than $2 million in non-lethal support to the opposition seeking to overthrow President al-Assad and about $43 million in humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, in New York diplomats at the United Nations were looking for someone to replace Kofi Annan, a former U.N. chief, who has abandoned his effort to find a peace agreement in Syria and is leaving by the end of the month.
Critics said that President al-Assad's crackdown on popular uprising that began in March 2011 has evolved into a full-blown civil war in Syria.
Human rights activists estimate that more than 20,000 people have died in the conflict.